Literacy, Orality, and the Web (Part One)

What oral communication can accomplish in Bible translation projects that print communication alone cannot

Communicating the gospel through oral means is nothing new. There is arguable evidence that Synoptic Gospel material arose out of non-literacy, “a movement from saying to composition.” The written gospel eventually took on greater authority. Consequently, the recitation of the written gospel became the dominant way to communicate scripture to the non-literate masses. Even so, it seems unlikely that telling and retelling of scripture using natural, oral style ceased altogether. Perhaps it was just viewed as lacking authority, because literate priests and pastors were the official readers and interpreters of the gospel for the non-literate.

The beginning of the Protestant Reformation in Europe (1517) brought radical ideas to the masses. One idea was that all people should be able to read and interpret the Bible. That would require increased literacy. Space doesn’t allow for a description of how Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press innovations created a hunger for more Bibles printed in more languages. Literacy in the Western developing nations surged soon after, especially with the democratization of education. Eventually, Western mission expansion spread the gospel and the notion that reading would be the primary way new believers engaged scripture translations.

The modern orality movement is said to have begun in the 1970s. Due to growing interest among several mission agencies over oral strategies, oral scripture production began to increase in the 1980s and into the 1990s. Does the resurrection of oral strategies indicate a return to former times when the oral and the written text peacefully co-existed, and both were authoritative? Coinciding with the rise of oral strategies, the traditional Western …

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from Simon Cox Blog


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